Wife of man accused of faking death won't be sentenced yet

Prosecutors say Daphne Simpson helped Jose Lantigua collect life insurance

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter, Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Francesca Amiker - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The wife of a former Jacksonville businessman accused of faking his own death to collect insurance money asked the judge for mercy Wednesday in federal court.

Daphne Simpson, 58, was set to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon, but Judge Timothy Corrigan declined to pronounce Simpson's sentence and instead heard character witnesses.

“I hope to eventually forgive myself for the part that I played in these activities," Simpson said. "I will always carry the burden of what transpired.”

Simpson has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and giving false information to law enforcement.

According to court documents, Simpson's attorney is claiming that Simpson deserves no further jail time. Simpson spent 16 months in the Duval County Jail awaiting the outcome of the case but was released in August by the court.

The maximum penalty Simpson faces is five years in prison and three years of probation. U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux recommended less than the maximum sentence of five years but also recommended restitution from Simpson of $871,067.11.

An emotional Simpson told the court Wednesday that she was duped by her own husband and that she believed her family was in danger.

“I have experienced a deep shame and heartbreak, realizing now how I deceived my family and other innocent people. It was never my intention to hurt anyone," Simpson said. “The actions that I took were based on my belief that I was protecting my family from terrible harm.”

Attorney Randy Reep, who is not connected to the case, said Simpson’s involvement in her husband Jose Lantigua’s scheme appears to be elaborate.

“It would not have been possible without her, and that's going to be difficult for her to stiff arm away,” Reep said.

In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, Simpson’s attorney detailed the facts of the scheme:

  • In 2013, Lantigua told Simpson that he had mad cow disease  and had one year to live.
  • Later, he admitted that was false, but told her that while in Army Special Operations, he assassinated the head of a drug cartel and the son of the leader was seeking revenge using a rogue CIA agent.
  • Simpson believed she, her husband and her children were in danger of being killed, and helped Lantigua fake his death.
  • Simpson has cooperated fully with the case against Lantigua since she and her husband were arrested.

“Cooperation is always helpful,” Reep said. “On the other hand, I think they had him pretty well dead to rights at the beginning.”

Simpson admitted Wednesday to lying but said she meant no harm.

But the prosecutor brought up that Simpson faked the paperwork for her husband’s death in Venezuela, went to court to collect the insurance money from the fake death and then brought money to Venezuela and the Bahamas.

Lantigua collected some of the $9 million in life insurance policies he had, but others didn’t believe the death certificate was real.

Simpson’s attorney said she “did not truly ‘obstruct’ law enforcement in their ability to identify Mr. Lantigua. They knew exactly who he was regardless of her statement.” A statement in which she identified him as Ernest Allen Wills, the fake name he was using, not Jose Lantigua.

“This was a very effectively run conspiracy that required multiple people involved,” Reep said. “That's why conspiracies are so bad. They are effective because many players, to include Ms. Simpson, participate in this.”

The two had been living in a mountain house in North Carolina until Lantigua was arrested.

Lantigua will not be sentenced until February. Corrigan will likely decide on Simpson's sentence at the same time.

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